Start with a Book

Ricky Rocket

Books and activities for summer reading and learning from Reading Rockets

Start With a Book: Books and activities for summer reading and summer learning

Summer Blog: Read. Explore. Learn!

Join us for a summer full of learning and adventures! Our guest bloggers will share how they use Start with a Book resources to dive into learning about new topics or dig deeper into things that kids already love. Go on a book-inspired scavenger hunt, listen in to some great audio books, jump into fascinating sports books, explore new cultures through art and architecture, start a family vegetable garden, learn about stars and the night sky, and more!


Trailblazer Summer

September 27, 2021

Kids at AHC, Inc.'s summer program learned about trailblazing women like Olympic high jumper Alice Coachman and pilot Hazel Ying Lee. They dug into the books and activities from Start with a Book's Trailblazers guide. More >

Launching Future Astronauts

September 17, 2021

Kids at Jubilee’s Early Start program explored space and the world of astronauts, using Start with a Book's Space Rangers toolkit as a guide. More >

Nurturing Nature

September 6, 2021

Meet Joe Weldon, a wildlife biologist who works for the BLM and the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. Joe’s love for nature and animals began at a young age. He grew up in places like Lolo, Montana, and Bend, Oregon, where his family spent lots of time outdoors. We’re excited to have Joe share his thoughts about engaging kids in their own outdoor adventures and getting them thinking and learning about becoming good stewards of our natural environment. More >

Bird Buddies

August 12, 2021

When Blanca Gómez was a kid, she spent a lot of time at her grandma’s. There, she ate bread with olive oil for breakfast, ran away from the cat in the corridor, and bumped her head on the corner of the table quite often. So, it makes sense that Bird House, the first book she both wrote and illustrated, talks about her grandma. We’re so grateful to Blanca for sharing her inspiration for Bird House as well as providing instruction and inspiration for getting crafty and creative! More >

Conversations Take Flight

July 28, 2021

Picture book biographies are ideal for introducing kids to the lives and ideas of those who lead the way. The 14 featured books in the Meet the Trailblazers guide encourage readers to explore the incredible lives of women and men of color who helped shape our world. One of those titles is The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee by Julie Leung. Hazel was a trailblazer not only for women, but Chinese American women in particular. We’re so delighted Julie is here to talk about bringing Chinese American narratives to the forefront and nurturing more stories and more perspectives that can inspire future trailblazers. More >

Tuning In to a New Frequency

July 20, 2021

While I’m making use of the Bird Buddies toolkit this summer, I can’t help but be focused on creatures with wings. Out in the backyard to watch birds, the kids and I are also tuning into winged insects (those cicadas were hard to miss), enjoying buzzing bees and butterflies while trying to avoid hundreds of mosquitoes. But the mosquitoes attract other winged visitors that we usually don’t get to observe — bats! I’m so excited that Emma Reynolds is here to steer us all toward taking a Bat Walk and learning more about these fascinating and helpful animals! More >

Reading That’s Natural

July 9, 2021

I most love the nature that comes right your doorstep, like the flicker that regularly visits my yard or the recent emergence of the 17-year cicadas in my neighborhood. It boosts my feeling of connection to the other living creatures we share the planet with. But sometimes the animals you really want to connect with are a little farther away from home. For me—especially nowadays—that’s where books come in! Here to make connections for us to the rain forest is award-winning author Melissa Stewart, who has written more than 180 science books for children and frequently visits schools to talk about her adventures in the natural world. More >


June 30, 2021

Some people and groups I follow on social media post simple outdoor adventures using #outsideeveryday which has propelled me on more than one occasion away from my screen for at least a walk around the block ... I’m so happy that April Pulley Sayre is here to share her ideas for embracing nature. April is a photo-illustrator and award-winning author of more than 75 books including Bloom BoomWarbler Wave, Full of Fall, and Thank You, Earth. More >

The Reading Connection

June 23, 2021

Summertime is a great opportunity for kids to discover an interest and summer reading can help illuminate new pathways that link kids to lifelong learning. We’re so delighted to have ornithologist, best-selling author, speaker, and environmental consultant John C. Robinson here to share what sparked two of his great passions — books and birds. More >

Hatching Summer Outdoor Reading Fun

June 14, 2021

One of the recommended titles in our new Bird Buddies toolkit is The Beak Book by Robin Page. Robin has written and illustrated numerous picture books, including the 2004 Caldecott Honor recipient What Do You Do with a Tail Like This?, which she created with her husband Steve Jenkins. We are so grateful to Robin for sharing more here about what inspired her interest in beaks, how she came up with the design for The Beak Book, and some fun and easy ways kids can explore birds and their beaks. More >

Building Big Dreams

June 1, 2021

One of the titles featured in our new Trailblazers activity guide is the electric picture book biography Building Zaha: The Story of Architect Zaha Hadid written and illustrated by Victoria Tentler-Krylov. We are so excited to have Victoria here to share more about Zaha, architecture, and the power in pursuing a passion. More >

Jump into Summer Learning

May 20, 2021

One of the titles featured in our new Trailblazers activity guide is the vibrant picture book biography Jump at the Sun: The True Life Story of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston by Alicia D. Williams and illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara. We are so grateful to Alicia for sharing more here about Zora, storytelling, and ways to use history and stories to get kids jumping. More >

Caught Read-Handed

January 3, 2021

Wendelin Van Draanen loved reading mysteries when she was growing up. But her Edgar-winning Sammy Keyes mystery series features all kinds of problems to solve, not just mysterious ones. We’re delighted to have Wendelin here to share more about her rich and relatable title character and what having access to such a character can do for young readers. More >

Diverse Role Models for All Children

December 16, 2020

Meet Anna Kim, illustrator, author, and advocate of diversity of role models for all children. As an Asian-American growing up in the U.S. — Anna was born in Seoul, Korea — she saw few positive representations of her culture. She’s come to Book Life to tell us more about how her experiences motivated her to write and illustrate her first picture book, the delightful Danbi Leads the School Parade. More >

Pup Talk

December 1, 2020

Pets can inspire in countless ways. When author Laura Shovan (A Place at the Table) shared with me that her two dogs had important cameos in her last two middle grade novels, I had to have her share more about how they inspire her! In her blog post, Laura says, "Even before 2020’s pet craze, children’s books have reflected the special bond between kids and creatures. Let’s look at three different ways young readers can integrate literacy skills with their love of animals." More >

Women Making History

November 16, 2020

The election of Kamala Harris as the first woman Vice President of the United States has had me both celebrating and thinking about women in history. Let's look at the many great stories of ordinary and extraordinary women and help make them a part of our past, part of our present, and a part of our future. Candace Fleming has written several titles that do just that, including Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart; Our Eleanor: A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt's Remarkable Life; and Boxes for Katje, and one that will introduce us to another great woman in history, Cubs in the Tub: The True Story of the Bronx Zoo's First Woman Zookeeper. More >

Test of Character

November 6, 2020

Elly Swartz, the author of acclaimed contemporary middle grade novels that spark discussion about mental health awareness, has come to Book Life to share her thoughts, ideas, and resources for empowering kids through books. Her debut novel, Finding Perfect, was named one of the best children’s books on mental health by the Child Mind Institute, and won a Nerdy Book Award. Smart Cookie was an ILA-CBC Children’s Choice and a Triple Crown Award Lamplighter nominee. School Library Journal said that Give and Take “may provide comfort and support to readers who have trouble processing their own strong emotions.” More >

A Ride to Remember

October 21, 2020

When Sharon Langley was born in the early 1960s, many amusement parks were segregated, and African-American families were not allowed entry. Sharon’s book, A Ride to Remember, written with Amy Nathan and illustrated by Floyd Cooper, shows how a community came together — both black and white — to make a change. In the summer of 1963, after demonstrations and public protests, Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Maryland desegregated. Sharon was the first African-American child to ride the carousel when the amusement park opened to patrons of all races. More >

Heroes Give Us Hope

October 15, 2020

Wait! Is this a joke? There’s a reason to celebrate 2020, this most difficult year? YES! This year is the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment — guaranteeing women the right to vote! Barb Rosenstock's newest book, Fight of the Century: Alice Paul Battles Woodrow Wilson for the Vote, introduces kids to the ways that women fought for justice and changed our country. More >

A Society Where No One Is Left Out

October 8, 2020

A picture book by Deborah Hopkinson that’s great for talking with kids about our democracy and active citizenry is Thanks to Frances Perkins, Fighter for Workers’ Rights. We’re so happy to have Deborah Hopkinson share more with us about Frances Perkins, her significant contributions to society, and how we — and Frances — can encourage kids to take action. More >

All About Rivers!

September 2, 2020

The summer of 2020 has been like no other. At Jubilee's Early Start program, our students participated in a virtual summer camp. We used Start with a Book's River Rangers curriculum to actively engage our students and to help them explore nature even in the confinement of their home. This summer, our students have learned about the water cycle, how rivers are formed, and river habitats. More >

Build Your Child’s Spatial Awareness by Exploring the Outdoors

August 3, 2020

Children start developing their spatial thinking skills at an early age, and like any skill, it takes practice. When you combine early orienting and mapping skills with adventures outdoors, you’ll build your child’s spatial thinking skills and also foster their curiosity about exploration and discovery. More >

Everyday Kindness: Strategies to Help Your Young Child Build Social and Emotional Skills

July 29, 2020

Children need strong social and emotional skills to succeed at home, at school, and in the community. Here are some ways to help your child develop kindness by seeing it in their own lives and having opportunities to demonstrate kind behaviors. More >

Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice

July 26, 2020

Something Happened in Our Town follows two families — one White, one Black — as they discuss a police shooting of a Black man in their community. The story aims to answer children’s questions about such traumatic events, and to help children identify and counter racial injustice in their own lives. To deepen learning, you'll find booklists, conversation guides, and other resources. More >

12 Ideas to Help Your Child Be an Upstander at Home and Beyond

July 24, 2020

When a situation arises where someone is being treated unfairly, excluded, ridiculed, or even bullied, what can a person who is watching do? What can a person do if he or she perceives an injustice at home or in school, the community, or the world? Explore what it means to be an "upstander" rather than a bystander. More >

Get Ready to Read Across America

January 30, 2020

As Read Across America draws near, it’s time to start thinking about which great books you’re going to share on March 2 and plan your reading celebration! Resources and recommendations abound! More >

Balloon-Powered Mars Lander: The Great Egg Drop Experiment!

September 17, 2019

Our students have been enjoying the Reading Rockets Space Rangers curriculum for several weeks. They have learned about gravity, paths of orbit, the moon, the sun, the solar system, and most recently, the planet Mars. This past week they learned all about why Mars has its red color, what the planet’s weather is like, and how we have been able to land space explorers on its surface to learn more about it. More >

Postcard from the Road

August 22, 2019

Our road-tripping school librarian Rebecca Burton, is checking in from her a cross-country adventure that has taken a few (brilliant!) detours thanks to the young readers in her family. "Greetings from the West! My, oh my, the mysteries and majesties we are discovering! Check out this crazy rock formation, Monument Rocks National Natural Landmark, which rises up out of the plains of Western Kansas ..." More >

3... 2...1... Blast Off! AHC Inc. Space Rangers

August 16, 2019

Every year we host a 6-week Summer Camp program for our elementary school students across our communities. This year we are implementing the Space Rangers curriculum at all five of our Community Centers’ Summer Camp Programs. Our students and staff could not be more excited to share some of our OUT OF THIS WORLD experiences with you. More >

Stories: Step by Step

August 13, 2019

This summer, in addition to signing up for the local library’s Summer Reading Challenge, we checked out the Start with a Book website to choose topics to explore. Having just finished fourth grade’s in-depth study of Virginia history, my son wanted to dig deeper. We gathered books about the American Revolution and the Civil War and started a ritual to ensure daily reading: “Stoop Time.” More >

What to read when it’s Hot, Hot, HOT out!

July 31, 2019

I write a series of books called Craftily Every After (under a pen name “Martha Maker” … now you know my secret!). These books are about four friends who all love to do crafts and other creative projects. So far, there are six books, each of which focuses on a new situation and craft project. In book #6, Breaking the Piggy Bank, the four friends decide to beat the heat with a lemonade stand. Because Bella’s dad runs a restaurant, they get the idea of making and selling agua fresca instead of plain old lemonade. More >

Little Projects Inspired by the Big Moon

July 23, 2019

Author Laura Purdie Salas has long felt a strong sense of wonder about the Moon. If You Were the Moon, one of the more than 125 books she has written for kids, provides readers with her poetic Moon observations. We’re so happy to have Laura share her wonderful Moon-inspired ideas to help you follow up on the interest and excitement generated by the anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. More >

Journey to the International Space Station with Astronaut Annie

July 15, 2019

This is the perfect summer to help kids learn more about space, from the early astronomers like Galileo to what space exploration can tell us now about life on planet Earth, so we are thrilled to start our countdown to the 50th anniversary of the successful Apollo 11 mission with author Suzanne Slade. Suzanne, a mechanical engineer by degree who worked on Delta rockets, often writes about science and space topics and is an award-winning author of more than 140 children’s books. She’s visiting Book Life to take us on the journey of her title Astronaut Annie to the International Space Station! More >

And … We’re Off!

July 3, 2019

While books can transport you through space and time, sometimes you just have to get behind the wheel and go! Always a great bonding experience, the summer family road trip can also be a learning adventure full of meaningful and authentic opportunities for kids to read, write, listen, and talk. Meet school librarian Rebecca Burton who shares how great books, websites, and apps fit into her family’s travels this summer, as they embark on a cross-country adventure ... that starts with a book! More >

Summer Exploration ... Using All Your Senses!

June 25, 2019

The long days of summer are made for memorable adventures, big and small. Author Leah Henderson shares how a simple moment can lead to hours of exploration and real and imagined adventures. Complement her recommendations for summer exploration with our Geography, Travel and Cultures resources. More >

Sharks in Socks?

June 12, 2019

Here we’re excited to share a wonderful new spin on bringing fiction and nonfiction together. It comes from award-winning author Erica S. Perl, and it will have everyone laughing and learning together. Erica loves to encourage creativity and curiosity and her new book Truth or Lie: Sharks! does both! More >

Summer Reading Chills and Thrills

June 5, 2019

This will be my 47th summer as a reader. My first summer as a reader was one of those unbearable hot, muggy Florida summers where you park yourself in front of the air conditioner and look longingly out the window, wishing for a trip to the beach or pool. Or pick up Norah Smaridge’s The Big Tidy-Up and Miss Suzy by Miriam Young and hide under your bed in the dark and the cool. For four-year-old me, that was quite the adventure. Monsters lived under my bed for goodness sake! More >

Water Words and Watersheds

July 27, 2018

This past week at aspire!, we have been implementing the River Rangers curriculum. Each of our three sites has focused on different aspects of the curriculum, but all of our students have had fun, learned new things about the world around them, and found some interesting new books. More >

We Are Water Explorers, Raft Builders, and Readers!

July 27, 2018

With all this rain in the weather forecast this week, how can we not talk about water?! Summer camp leader Becky Koons gets her River Rangers going by imagining a day without water. More >

Adventures of My Summer River Rangers

July 23, 2018

How can we teach children about one of our most important natural resources? Gaynelle Diaz combines lots of reading with art, hands-on activities, and field trips to jumpstart a summer full of learning about water and our local rivers. More >

Summer Harvest

September 19, 2017

How was your summer? Like most summers, it went by way too quickly for me. But there are a couple of things I think will be helpful to do to preserve this summer’s bounty of reading and learning. More >

Not Just for Kids: Our Journey to Turquoise Mountain

August 28, 2017

Retreating from a surprisingly cool and grey July morning, 60 parents, grandparents, and children poured out of a bus on Pennsylvania Ave. Together, we amble towards the entrance to the African Art Museum — our gateway to the Freer and Galleries. More >

Take reading outside

August 21, 2017

Story can do a lot to inspire kids to engage with the natural world. What can you do to get kids outside? Kit Ballenger has some ideas that all start with a book! Kit is a youth services librarian at An Open Book Foundation and a regular volunteer at the Library of Congress Young Readers Center. An avid hiker and backpacker, she always has a book in tow and reads every night before bedtime, even by headlamp in a sleeping bag. More >

Become an explorer in your own backyard or nearby park!

August 15, 2017

Strengthen your child’s powers of observation and imagination when you spend time together outdoors. You can find nature in a variety of settings within your community, giving children the opportunity to explore by touching, smelling, and examining things to make their own discoveries. Lulu Delacre, award-winning bilingual author and illustrator of children's books, offers engaging ideas to inspire children and their families to make artistic connections with the natural world. More >

Book-ing Your Child’s Summer Vacation

August 11, 2017

Even though it is already back-to-school time in some parts of the country, there’s still time for reading fun in the summer sun for everyone! Legendary children’s storytime performer and early childhood educator Sol Livingston has some great ideas for summer reading that will inspire reading road trips all year round. More >

Preventing the Summer Slide in Military Families: The Importance of Reading Aloud

August 8, 2017

Parents play a major role in stimulating developing minds and building literacy skills and children who read aloud with their parents reap numerous benefits. But for children and parents who are physically separated, it is difficult to read aloud together and build bonds around books. Our friends at United Through Reading share how establishing reading routines help support summer reading, particularly for those families who face the challenge of military deployment. More >

Score Big with Books

August 3, 2017

For many sports-loving kids, summer means heading to the field, court, pitch or pool. But a passion for playing a sport can also get kids reading. Author Fred Bowen shares how his own love of sports relates to reading and what parents can do to help kids connect their own sports experiences to all kinds of reading. More >

Hear Me Out About Summer Reading

July 31, 2017

Summer can provide the time to read that lots of kids need to strengthen skills. But summer also offers other warm-weather distractions that have more kid appeal than books. William Weil, Co-Founder and CEO of Tales2go, an award-winning kids' mobile audiobook service, shares his ideas for building reading comprehension skills and engaging young readers and families in summer reading and learning adventures. Listen up! More >

Learning Together: Summer Trips with Turning the Page

July 18, 2017

Kids benefit when their parents are active members of their community. When they feel their families are a part of the community, kids feel safer, valued, and more confident which opens up great opportunities for learning and exploration. Ellie Canter, Managing Director at Turning the Page, shares how real-life experiences and connections with books help build community in Washington, DC. More >

Join Little Free Library’s Action Book Club (And You Could Win Free Books!)

July 10, 2017

Sometimes we need a reminder that big changes in our world often start with small actions. Books can be that perfect reminder, especially for kids who connect with a particular character or find inspiration in fiction and nonfiction about ordinary people who stand up for what's right. More >

A Taste of Nature

July 5, 2017

The sense of wonder that nature provides is exactly the curiosity you want your child to bring to a book. Even if you are limited to exploring your backyard or the local park, there are many simple ways to spend enjoyable times reading and learning together in the great outdoors. More >

Summer Writing: It’s Cool to Collaborate

June 22, 2017

Here are Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang to tell you about how they paired up as co-authors and how working with a partner can help get kids excited about writing this summer. More >

Map Fun: Creating a Visual Itinerary

August 30, 2016

This summer we traveled to France for a friend’s wedding and the Tour de France. It was a trip that included a long road trip with multiple stops. I thought a fun way to get the kids excited about the trip would be a map exercise: creating a visual itinerary to help the kids understand where we were going and what we’d be seeing. More >

Making Reading Connections with Themes

August 23, 2016

For more than 25 years, The Reading Connection (TRC) has been making sure kids get read to and have books of their own. Our organization is dedicated to improving the lives of at-risk children and families by helping them create and sustain literacy-rich environments and motivation for reading. This year our overall theme was superheroes — specifically how you can “be your own superhero.” Kids were encouraged to reflect and consider what their own superpowers were — because not all superheroes have the same powers! More >

Sun versus Shade Experiment

August 22, 2016

We live in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, and it’s been hot. Really hot. And based on the weather reports we’ve seen this summer, much of this country has experienced at least one, if not many heat waves already. Addie and I have been reading about the topic of weather, and she was curious about how hot things can get under the sun. We decided to do a quick and easy science experiment to test the difference in the temperatures of objects sitting under the sun versus being in the shade using an infrared thermometer. More >

Do Architects Build Dollhouses?

August 15, 2016

When you ask my daughter Addie what she wants to be when she grows up, she’ll say a number of things, one of which is wanting to be an architect. When you ask her why she wants to be an architect, she’ll tell you that buildings come in all sorts of interesting shapes and designs. She may also mention that it’d be fun to build dollhouses. I wanted to help her explore the world of buildings (and dollhouses), so I tried out a framework for helping any child explore a job that they’re interested in. More >

Elevating Family Reading

August 11, 2016

A bunch of my teacher and librarian friends recently returned from a Reading Summit hosted by Scholastic. There, they spent a day talking about strategies to get kids excited about reading independently. I decided to host my own reading summit – at the kitchen table. The goal, I told my kids and husband, was just to figure out a few things that would get us excited about reading. What could we do that would get us reading more? More >

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go Olympics!

August 3, 2016

With the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics upon us, it was the perfect time to host our very own “Go Olympics!” event, and it also turned out to be a great activity to include our neighborhood friends in. The friendly competition gave the kids an opportunity to be active, practice good sportsmanship, and learn about inspiring athletes such as Wilma Rudolph. More >

A Summer Reading Scavenger Hunt

July 25, 2016

Set up a book-inspired scavenger hunt to help young readers discover new books and new genres — or look at an old favorite in a new way. Know a kid who loves books but doesn’t yet read? Start with favorite picture books, using drawings instead of questions so they’ll know to search for a ladybug, the moon, or a hairy, scary monster. Children's author Madelyn Rosenburg shows you how. More >

Catching Stars

August 18, 2015

In Carol’s final blog posting for the summer, the family embarks on another Start with a Book summer science exploration: The Night Sky. Unbeknownst to them, their exploration continues on in paradise, and wraps up at home in their own front yard. More >

We're Going on Five Planes!

August 10, 2015

Carol and her kids explore the topic of flight with a visit to the National Air and Space Museum. Their ongoing exploration of flight continues during their summer travels as they learn about Amelia Earhart, go on five planes, and make their own paper airplanes. More >

It’s a Tomato Warning!

July 16, 2015

Carol and her family share their gardening adventures. They learn the virtue of patience when it comes to gardening with some help from a book called And Then It’s Spring, and experience the satisfaction of growing their own fruits and vegetables from seed. More >

Madam President

July 8, 2015

Addie explores the idea of becoming President. With a visit to the Lincoln Memorial, and a candid “what if I were President” interview with her mom, we get to see the world through the eyes of a five and half year old. More >

Dear Mo Willems

June 30, 2015

Addie takes her mom on an exploration of her favorite author, Mo Willems. The exploration goes beyond his books and includes watching a Reading Rockets interview with Mo Willems and drawing him fan mail. More >

A Strawberry Farm-to-Table Adventure

June 25, 2015

Carol shares the delicious fun of strawberry picking at a local farm, and how a book and a Highlights magazine article lead to baking adventures in the kitchen with the kids. More >

A Bonfire, a Bookstore, and Whales: Our Cape Cod Adventure

June 19, 2015

Carol shares how she prepared for a beach trip to Cape Cod with a Summer Tip text, and discovers the fun of stopping by a local bookstore. She’s also discovering how the role of books in their lives is evolving, and making summer explorations more memorable. More >

We’re Going on a Bug Hunt!

June 11, 2015

Carol goes bug hunting with her three-year-old son Taylor, and realizes a great adventure can be had right at home, alongside bug-themed books and apps. More >

Our first exploration: money!

June 01, 2015

In Carol’s first blog post about her summer adventures with her kids, she uses the Start with a Book site for the first time. She shares the fun times (and mishap) they have exploring a topic Addie is learning about in school, money. More >

Meet Carol Shen

May 21, 2015

Meet Carol Shen, her daughter Addie, and her son Taylor. This summer, they will be sharing their Start with a Book summer adventures with us. Join the Shen family for a summer full of reading, talking, and exploring! More >